The why and how behind the defeat of proposed incorporations for Stansbury Park and Lake Point during last Tuesday’s general election can be interpreted in several ways. But two main themes stand out.
One is both communities aren’t unified enough to become cities, even though both generated sufficient petition signatures last summer to put propositions 15 and 16 on the general election ballot. Although pre-canvass votes show that Lake Point almost passed incorporation by 13 votes, it still lost. In Stansbury, the result was a clear mandate with 61 percent nay votes.
The second main theme is Stansbury and Lake Point are evidently conflicted over cutting the umbilical cord with Tooele County Corporation and creating their own city halls — and all the taxes and municipal costs that go with them. Autonomy is sweet, yet breaking free is never easy or cheap. Although financial studies on both proposed incorporations showed each has the capacity to be self-sustaining without massive tax hikes, voters in both communities perhaps didn’t want the risk.
Tooele County Corporation may be relieved at the outcome. Stansbury and Lake Point combined generate significant property tax, municipal services tax and sales tax for the county. Yet, the county isn’t entirely off the hook. Although both incorporation bids lost, voters did pass Proposition 14 by 65 percent. The mandate puts into motion a citizen committee that will perform a county government study. When finished, the study may determine whether or not the current three-member county commission form of government is effective, efficient, and responsive to citizens’ needs.
If the study committee concludes the current county commission falls short, it is presumed the committee may recommend the commission be scuttled for another form of government. Those other forms, approved by the Utah Legislature, include: an expanded county commission of five to seven members with the commissioners retaining both legislative and executive powers; a county council with legislative authority and an appointed county manager with executive authority; or a county council with legislative authority and an elected mayor with executive authority.
As reported in last Thursday’s front-page story headlined “Sponsors of county government study anxious to get started,” the petition sponsors behind Proposition 14 are delighted voters passed the measure and anxious to get the process started.
“We could not be more excited about the results,” said Erik Gumbrecht, one of the petition sponsors. “One thing has been absolutely clear during this entire process: the citizens want a sense of ownership of their government.”
It could be argued the defeats of propositions 15 and 16, and the clear win of Proposition 14, are unrelated. But based on the election results, Stansbury and Lake Point citizens’ biggest reason for seeking city-hood may be about creating more local representation — a voice to be heard — rather than self-governance.
If there is a shred of truth to that observation, then the defeat of propositions 15 and 16, and the reasons why citizens signed petitions to get them on the ballot, is something the study committee shouldn’t ignore, but instead evaluate while studying the efficacy of the current county commission form of government.
It just might be a good place to start.